Researchers call for consistent monitoring of commitments to nature as analysis reveals national reporting shortfalls

A monarch butterfly caterpillar eating milkweed

Researchers from the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) have conducted the first high-level analysis of countries’ policy pledges for nature and subsequent reporting of actions taken under the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi biodiversity targets.

In a study, published earlier this month in npj Biodiversity, they discovered nearly half (44 per cent) of traceable commitments from national biodiversity strategies and action plans (NBSAPs) could not be linked to evidence of actions taken in their follow-up progress reports.

The UN declared 2011-2020 to be the “Decade on Biodiversity”. Over these years, countries implemented actions to fulfil the commitments they had made for nature, guided by the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and its 20 Aichi Targets. However, at the end of the decade it became clear that there were major shortfalls and the world had largely failed to achieve the global targets.

The latest international agreement for nature is the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, also referred to as the Biodiversity Plan. The governments that are Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted an enhanced multidimensional approach for planning, monitoring, reporting and review that provides an opportunity to address the shortfalls under the previous Strategic Plan. To make sure policymakers know as much as possible about the progress countries are making, the authors of the study call for the process between commitments being made, carried out and evaluated to be clearer.

To ensure accountable action for nature, policymakers need to know where, how and why previous commitments did not succeed. National reports, instruments by which governments report on implementation to the CBD, do not always follow the same format as NBSAPs, making simple summaries of progress challenging. To overcome this challenge, the research team cross-referenced the NBSAPs against those countries’ sixth national reports, submitted to the CBD in 2020 as the Strategic Plan and its Aichi targets drew to close.

The researchers began by identifying 58 countries with both NBSAPs and national reports suitable for an itemised analysis. After sorting and classifying commitments according to the Aichi Targets that they would contribute to, they found 7,931 traceable commitments, 56 per cent of which were identifiable in a national report.

Examining those traceable pledges, the research team found that three-quarters were listed as having some level of success. However, 44 per cent of previous global commitments were apparently not being tracked. The large gap in information on reporting identified by the researchers shows how much uncertainty there is about how well commitments to nature are being carried out.

The researchers highlight the need for a clear, standardised process to ensure robust national monitoring of actions under the Biodiversity Plan. They also call for the commitments that have been made to now be translated into actions.

Our analysis of NBSAPs shows inconsistent levels of reporting by countries. Some slippage is to be expected – not everything goes according to plan – but there has to be some kind of record of this if we want to know where plans may be going wrong, if adjustments due to re-prioritisation are needed and how Parties implementing these commitments can be supported.

For the Aichi Targets we don’t know the outcome of almost half of all commitments if all we use is the sixth national reports to the CBD. Now that Parties have begun implementing the Biodiversity Plan, it’s crucial to make sure that each of the groups engaged has the capacity, support and impetus needed to report back against all their commitments, to track progress and to adapt accordingly.”

Calum Maney, lead author and modelling scientist at UNEP-WCMC

Main image: AdobeStock_219730327

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